My daughter has just started school – and it feels a lot like I’m back to school too. I can’t be late, I have a lot of homework, and I have to make new friends…
It’s 9.02am on a Thursday and I’m racing down the road that leads to the school gate. Well, I’m lurching down the road with a pram that has one child in the main seat, another child on the wonky buggy board, and bits of child-paraphernalia falling out of the sides.
The playground is deserted when we get there at 9.05am – except for the headteacher, whom I will soon realise is put out to patrol for laggards at 9am sharp. He gives me a friendly but firm look. I know what he’s thinking: “You’re going to be one of those.”
Everyone in our house, it seems, is starting school. I’d naively thought it would just be my eldest child, who is four-and-a-half, who would have a whole new world to get used to this month. But actually I’m going through a pretty similar baptism of fire myself.
All of a sudden, I can’t be late in the mornings. I have a lot of homework (aka late-night school admin). And, most excruciating of all, I have to make new friends…
I’m already bumping into the same parents each day, as we turn up for drop-offs and pick-ups. On these occasions I smile, ask nice questions, and pretend I’m in a good mood even if I’m not – you know, all the things that help you make friends.
No one is being themselves in these moments though, and I wonder how any of this will evolve into friendship. Sample school-gates conversation: “How are you?” “Oh yes, fine!”
I think of the mumfluencer Louise Boyce’s recent memoir, which contains a very funny daydream where she responds with brutal honesty to a polite “How are you?” at the school gates. My honest answer would probably go something like this:
“So nice of you to ask. The thing is, I feel endlessly tired, I hate how much my kids fight with each other, and my hair is going through a weird frizzy phase. Also, I don’t like those “friendly but firm” looks from the teachers, and I sometimes wonder if I should have had children at all, since their lives will probably be marred by climate change. On the upside, I discovered a really cool Betty Davis album recently and I care a lot about my job.”
Needless to say, I just go with: “Oh yes, fine!”
So, what’s my grade for this first fortnight? I think I’m doing alright – I’ve kept up with the admin on crucial things (flu jabs), although I’ve let other stuff lapse (I’m putting off joining the reception class Whatsapp group for as long as humanly possible). My husband is now in charge of drop-offs because he is excellent at being on time.
Fortunately, I haven’t faced the test of actual schoolwork yet. We all know the scene in The Incredibles 2, where Mr Incredible flips out about the fact that maths has “changed” and he can’t understand his kid’s homework. A friend with a seven-year-old has also forewarned me that dinosaur science has reached “a whole new level” since our schooldays. I’m glad that’s a challenge for another time.
Most importantly, my daughter has bravely bounced into school each day and is (mostly) rolling with all the changes. So I’ll give myself a solid B+ for these first weeks. Actually, what the hell! Let’s go for A-.
** This blog is part of a series called The Chaos Train, a record of daily life as a working parent with young children **